Most of the visitors to London lands at Heathrow airport. Out of five airports in London, Heathrow is the biggest airport and it’s more than 20 KM away from the Central London.
There are several different transportation options you can choose from Heathrow. There is no “one size fits all” option for transfer from Heathrow airport to London and the best method depends on time of day, final destination, group size, luggage and your personal preference. The different alternatives you can choose from are;
The fastest option to transfer from Heathrow airport to London is the dedicated airport express train, the Heathrow Express. The Heathrow Express runs between Heathrow Airport and Paddington Station, taking 15 minutes from Terminals 2 and 3 and 20 minutes from Terminal 5. Heathrow Express trains start at Terminal 5 station, and the only stop the train makes on the journey to Paddington is at Heathrow Central where Terminals 2 and 3 are located.
This express train is not going to Terminal 4. There is a separate shuttle train running between Terminal 4 and Heathrow Central station every 15 minutes which provide connection to the main Heathrow Express train. At Paddington station there are dedicated platforms for Heathrow Express at street level.
From Heathrow Airport the first train from Heathrow (Terminals 2 and 3) is at 05:17. Last train is at 23:59 (on Sunday 23:47). Trains depart approximately every 15mins. From Paddington first train is 05:10 and the last train is at 23:25.
Heathrow Express has two class; Standard vs Business first class. In First Class you get more leg room, a table, Wifi and complimentary copies of various magazines. For most people standard class is perfect with comfortable seats and lot of luggage space.
The ticket system for this train is working same like airfares. The sooner you plan the more you save. You can save money by booking your tickets in advance online or by using the Heathrow Express app. A ticket purchased 90 day in advance costs only £5.50 while same day single journey ticket cost £25 peak hours and £ 22 off peak. Same day ticket prices are the same online, app or as buying your ticket at the station.
You can pay for your trip using Oyster cards, contactless bank cards and mobile devices on the Heathrow Express. Although you can use Oyster for the Heathrow Express, the fare charged is not included in the daily cap. This may be the cheapest transfer option if booked 90 days in advance. For more about Oyster card read this;
Getting Around London by Public Transport
This option is best if you are staying in the Paddington area. For other areas you need to change in Paddington, which make this option costly.
TFL Rail Heathrow
The TFL Rail Heathrow (formerly Heathrow Connect) is a local train between Heathrow airport and Paddington Station. It is a cheaper alternative to the Heathrow Express running on the same route and departs from the same platform as the Heathrow Express. This train is running mainly for the people working on Heathrow airport but anyone can use this. The only difference The TFL train and Heathrow express is, it stops at five stations between Heathrow and Paddington Station. For visitors, the important station enroute is Ealing Broadway which is an underground interchange connecting to the Central and District Lines.
The TFL train runs every 30 minutes and takes almost double time to connect Heathrow terminal 2 to Paddington then the Heathrow express. The TFL train terminate at Heathrow Terminal 4 stopping at Heathrow Terminals 2 and 3.
The TFL Rail to Heathrow starts earlier than the Tube or Heathrow Express. From Paddington first train is 04:42, (Sundays 05:11). The last train is at 23:02, (Sundays 23:11). From Heathrow Airport first train from Heathrow (Terminals 4) is at 05:22, (Sundays 06:01) and the last train is at midnight.
TFL Rail Heathrow uses the same integrated ticketing system as used by most other public transport in London. You can use an Oyster card, travel pass or contactless credit card/debit card for payment. The cost of one-way ticket is £10.80 (off-peak £10.10). Since this is part of the TFL (Transport for London) network, daily capping on fare apply for zone 1-6. If you use public transport after this trip during the day, you will not pay more than the daily cap of £12.50.
This option is best if you are staying in the Paddington area. For other areas you need to change at Ealing Broadway or Paddington, making this option stressful. Cost will be almost same anywhere in London due to oyster fare cap.
London’s Underground or “the Tube” is the least expensive way to travel between Heathrow and Central London. It is the cheapest and most frequent transfer option, almost every 10 minute. The London Underground trains at Heathrow do not stop at the same platforms as the Heathrow Express and TFL trains. The London Underground at Heathrow is a separate system with its own stations.
The airport has three London Underground stations: one central station for Terminals 2, 3 and one each for Terminal 4 and Terminal 5. Terminal 2, 3 central station is common for all trains on Piccadilly line. The trains going to Terminal 4 will not go to Terminal 5 and vice versa. There are two different routes at Heathrow airport;
Trains from London will branch off after Hatton Cross station to Terminal 4. After Terminal 4 the train loops around to Central station (Terminals 2,3) before going back to London.
Another set of trains from London will go straight to Terminal 5 via Central station (Terminals 2,3) and follow the same route while returning.
Heathrow airport is served by the Piccadilly line which passes through most of the central London (Earl’s court, South Kensington, Piccadilly Circus, Kings Cross), and option to change for other lines at these stations. It takes between 35 minutes to 1 hour to reach most of the places in central London.
It can be a bit difficult if you are travelling with big luggage and you need to change station for your final destination, as most stations have lots of stairs and different lines not using the same platform. Also, the Underground is overcrowded during peak rush hours, making it difficult to carry luggage. You can keep your luggage in the luggage space near the door without obstructing the seats.
From Terminal 2, 3 the first train to Central London leaves Heathrow at around 5.12 AM weekdays (03:17 AM weekends). The last train leaves for Central London around 23:45 Mon/Thu, 03:07 Fri/Sat and 23:28 on Sunday.
From T4 the first train leaves around 05:02 (Sun 05:47). Last train leaves at around 23:35 (Sun 23:15). From T5 the first train leaves at around 05:23 Mon/Thu (03:14 Sat/Sun) and last train leaves around 23:42 Mon/Thu (03:04 Fri/Sat and 23:25 Sunday).
The first train from Central London (departing from Piccadilly Circus) arrives at Heathrow at around 05:47 (Sat/Sun 03:23) and the last train leaves for Heathrow from London around 00:32 Mon/Thu (03:33 Fri/Sat and 23:28 on Sunday).
On Fridays and Saturdays, the Piccadilly Line operates 24 hours, with night trains to and from Terminals 2, 3 and 5 on average every 10 minutes. There is no service from Terminal 4 but you can transfer to central station.
All the times are subject to change, so double-check your train times on the TFL journey planner.
London underground uses the same integrated ticketing system as used by most other public transport in London. You can use an Oyster card, travel pass or contactless credit card/debit card for payment. Heathrow airport is in fare zone 6. The standard Oyster pay as you go single Tube ticket from Heathrow to central London (zone 1-6) is £5.10 for adults during peak hours (06:30 to 09:30 & 16:00 to 19:00, Monday to Friday) and £3.10 during off peak hours. Kids under 11 travel free when accompanied by an adult.
This option is best if you are staying anywhere on the Piccadilly line. For other areas you need to change at your desired line/station, making this option stressful. Cost will be almost same anywhere in London due to oyster fare cap.
Night bus route N9
If your flight is delayed and you miss the last tube or train, the N9 night bus can take you from Heathrow airport to Central London. The bus runs throughout the night at 30-minute intervals and costs £1.50. This night bus starts from Terminal 5, visiting the central bus station of Terminals 2 and 3. The N9 route includes stops at Hammersmith, Knightsbridge, Hyde Park Corner and Piccadilly.
This bus also uses the same integrated ticketing system and you can’t pay with cash on the bus. Only Oyster card and contactless cards are accepted on the bus. You can get the Oyster card from the Oyster ticket machine at the entrance to Terminals 2 & 3 tube station. The machine is outside the tube station and is open 24-hours.
National Express Bus
National Express bus is another option from Heathrow to Victoria Station or Hammersmith in London. These buses operate from 3am to midnight with peak time frequency of 15 minutes and takes 50 minutes to Victoria station. You can find the National Express buses at their designated place outside the arrival gate of all the terminals.
One-way fare ranges from £6 to £10 plus £2 to choose your seat and £1 booking fee.
This option is best if you are staying in the Victoria. For other areas you need to change at Victoria station.
Black cabs are the traditional London taxis which can take up to 5 passengers and their luggage. These are the only taxis in London that you can hail on the street or get at a cab stand. The London black taxis are the approved taxis on the taxi ranks at the Heathrow passenger terminals. The black taxis offer the ultimate in convenience, but come at a price. One-way transfer from Heathrow airport to central London cost between £45–90.
The transfer time is slightly less than the private taxis/uber, since black cabs can take the bus lane unlike any other cars. This is a good option if travelling in a group.
Private transfer and taxi app
A private transfer is cheaper than the black taxi option and features a meet and greet facility. Your driver will be waiting for you as you exit the customs/baggage hall and escort you to the waiting vehicle. Private transfers are operating on fixed rates, so you don’t have to worry about traffic jams or diversion.
Taxi app like Uber is also quite popular in London. There is a dedicated spot for these types of taxis to pick up the passengers outside the terminal. You will find your pickup location from the app after you request a ride. The transit Time for these types of services are same as black taxi plus the time to meet your driver or reach the Uber location
You can choose any of the options mentioned above which is convenient to you. For going back to Heathrow airport, just follow the things in reverse order.